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Monday, February 26, 2018

Monochrome Painting

Tree in Red, Sunmallia. A monochrome painting (black and white are not regarded as colors).
Understanding and employing color is almost synonymous with being a painter. In fact, until the advent of the 20th-century monochrome paintings were virtually non-existant. Before around 1900, painters had, for centuries, reveled in color. During the mid-1800s there was quite a controversy in the French Ecole des Beaux Arts as to whether color was simply a means of enhancing a drawing (the Poussinistes) or a valid element of design having an vibrant independence of its own(the Rubenistes). Poussin and Rubens themselves had little to do with controversy other than being academic proponents of the two modes of thinking. Poussin's followers embraced traditional thinking with regard to color while followers of Rubens were akin to the avant-garde of the day. Both groups would likely have been antithetical to any thought of painting with only one hue (plus a lightening darkening agent).

Copyright, Jim Lane
Fifty-thousand Miles, Jim Lane. The single hue in monochrome painting need not be black. This one uses burnt umber.
We're probably all too familiar with the Russian painter, Kazimir Malevich's Black Square from 1915, and his Supremacist Composition: White on White dating from 1918. Although they dealt only with purist black or white (or both), they were probably the first monochrome paintings (or at least the first worth talking about). Thus monochrome painting is just over a hundred years old and was primarily important as one of the seeds leading to non-representational Abstract Expressionism. Although monochrome painting is a vibrant force in painting today (much of it expressionistic), very little of it falls into the category of pure Abstract Expressionism. Actually, a great deal of monochrome painting done today embraces Realism as with my own Fifty-thousand Miles (above).

Meltaway (monochrome) and Northern White (monochromatic), James Lecce
I suppose I should pause at this point and discuss monochrome painting as it relates to monochromatic painting. You may have noticed that I've not mention monochromatic painting until now in an effort to avoid the all too prevalent assumption on the part of artists and critics that the two are synonymous. They're not (quite). Monochrome refers to a photograph or painting developed or executed in black and white, or in varying tones of only one color. Monochromatic is an image having only one predominant color. The two are quite similar except for a single word--predominant. The two works of James Lecce (above) illustrate the difference. His Meltaway (left) uses only shades and tints of brown (probably burnt sienna). His Northern White (right) may at first glance, appear to be a monochrome, but notice that in addition to his shades of gray, the artist also employs shades of tan (probably raw sienna). That makes it monochromatic.

Rd8 (upper image) and Original Acrylic Painting by Serbian artist, Jelena Milojevic utilize a layered surface blurring the line between painting and sculpture. Both are monochrome.
Copyright, Jim Lane
I should also point out that monochrome art is not limited just to painting. In fact, a great deal of sculpture is monochrome, either by virtue of the material, such as marble, plastics, copper, steel, etc., or by the artist's choice of paint color as with the work of the Serbian painter, Jelena Milojevic (above). I might also note that many sculptural materials change color over time, though they usually do so in a manner still falling under the definition of monochrome (as in the greenish color taken on over time by copper.
Miss Liberty, 1971,
Jim Lane

Jim in Monochrome,
Anna Bain
Monochrome painting may seem to have its limits in terms of an artist's self-expression and content, and that is an element inherent in its nature, but such limitations are not as confining as one might expect. In terms of realistic renderings, monochrome painting has its roots in photography, though it took several decades from the "invention" of the photograph for them to take hold. It was only when photography began to be seen as an art-form in its own right that artists and critics came to realize that the aesthetics of blacks, whites, and grays in fine art photography could just as easily apply to painting. This lag meant that monochrome painting did not have much of an impact until well into the 20th-century when various avant-garde movements began to eschew multi-colored works in favor of the subtleties of mon-ochrome and monochromatic art. Portraits such as Jim in Monochrome (left) by Anna Bain and the monochromatic forest scene below provide an indication of the versatility of this color regimen in today's art.

The predominant shade is brown but the secondary color of earthen green gives this monochromatic scene a subtlety that would be lacking in pure monochrome.

Copyright, Jim Lane
Big Red, 1981, Jim Lane
In defense of colors, they help de-termine detail. Sometimes, however, multiple colors can disguise details as naturally seen. Using shades of one color to wash out a photo or painting can add to the overall impact and bring out details that oth-erwise might be missed. This pro-cess of either eliminating all color or reducing the color palette to hues within a single shade is often refer-red to as monochromatic. Adding the "tic" to monochrome changes the meaning to one of having some of the attributes of a single color. In the examples seen above, I've included images in which the artist focuses our attention using careful color sel-ection. This is not necessarily a sing-le color, even though monochromatic tends to imply such a distinction. Some photos and artwork bend the rule a bit and incorporate one ad-ditional color to the primary shade used. In this case, as with many other terms in the English language, two words--monochrome and mono-chromatic--are better than one.

Juhee. Is it monochrome or 
monochromatic? (I'm not sure if
"Juhee" is the name of the cat
or the artist.)


Monday, February 19, 2018

Citizenship Through Art

The Executions of the Third of May, 1808, Francisco Goya
The painting depicts an execution of a group of Spanish countrymen by Napoleon's troops. There are eight soldiers, with their faces turned away from the viewer, firing upon Spanish revolutionaries at very close range. There is a central figure, a Spanish man in his early 30's with his arms outstretched, wearing a white shirt and yellow ochre pants. He is on his knees. If you look very closely you can see piercing in the palms of his hands. The central figure is surrounded by about seven men. They are in various states of emotions. Some of the men cover their eyes, others are in prayer, while at least one covers his ears. There is a monk in prayer along side this group that frames the central character. In the foreground is a pile of dead bodies. A pool of blood flows into the center of the composition, in front of the central figure. A large lantern in the center illuminates the execution. The painting was created by the Spanish artist Francisco Goya in 1814, though little mention is made either of the artist, that date, nor even the title of the nearly 9-foot by 13-foot painting. The setting is the Museum of the New York Historical Society, and though it might appear so at first glance, the scene is not that of a routine art appreciation class touring the facility. The class is free and every student attending comes searching for help in passing a test, hoping to become a naturalized American Citizen.
A collection of just a few of the paintings the historical society uses to teach American history to future citizens.
The citizenship melting pot.
The citizenship class offered by the New York Historical Society is predicated on the fact that learning is best facilitated by doing and seeing, followed by reading, and listening (in that order). The class is aimed at experiencing art, thus deriving an emotional connection rather than memorization. What is the overall mean-ing of the work of art? The question is subjective. Everyone will have a different response. There are no wrong answers to what the painting says to the viewer. The goal is in helping students recall an im-age and its meaning as to American his-tory in answering the ten (out of a pos-sible one-hundred) oral questions posed during a personal interview. The painting is timeless. It pays tribute to people who are willing to stand up for their beliefs, in spite of, aggressors who would try to destroy them. It also depicts the cost of war for the victims as well as the aggressors.

Pulling Down the Statue of King George III, New York City, 1859, Johannes Adam Simon Ortel.
F. Bratoli, 1796
Pulling Down the Statue of King George III (above) is used to help answer two questions on the naturalization test: “When do we celebrate Independence Day?” and “When was the Declaration of Independence adopted?" The New-York Historical Society is committed to telling the American story and fostering a community of learners to consider what it means to be an American, past and present. For more than a decade, the historical society hosted naturalization ceremonies at the museum, celebrating new American citizens. Their exhibitions, programs, and educational initiatives delve into American history and explore issues such as government, immigration, culture, and civics--all important ele-ments of the naturalization test. Par-ticipants learn about pivotal moments in history by examining objects and docu-ments from the museum's collections.

President Washington Taking
the Oath, Federal Hall, 1789,
Guiseppi Guidimci, 1839
With their "Citizenship Project," the historical society’s leadership decid-ed in January, 2017, to take an active role in helping permanent residents become citizens after President Trump called for travel restrictions on Muslims entering the United States. The classes started in July, with the goal of helping 750 to 1,000 people prepare for the citizenship exam. The project is a 32-hour interactive pro-gram utilizing artifacts, documents, and art from the museum’s perman-ent collection in covering all the questions used in the test. For many students, English is not their first language, so they’re quite eager to get any assistance they can to make this test easier.

Many, for whom English is not their native language, fine help in reading children's books supplied by the museum and written by authors from their home country.

New-York Historical Society, 170 Central Park West at
(77th Street), New York, NY 10024
After the travel bans, the historical society recognized a long history of helping immigrants. If you're not a citizen, you can't vote, you can't travel out of the United States without fear of not being allowed back into the country. If you're arrested you could potentially be deported, so this is a way to be treated as a decent human being. The New York Historical Society program has already seen several students actually pass the exam and become sworn in as U.S. citizens.

The museum proudly displays America's first citizens.


Monday, February 12, 2018

Name That Color

Try it--print out the blank chart above, then write in the name of each color (some may require a white colored pencil). The answers are on down...WAY on down at the bottom, so no cheating. 
Remember, back when you were young and television was in its infancy, when there were dozens of game shows aired, usually in the early evening. In their latter years they migrated to mid-morning programming. A half-dozen or so from back then are still around and have remained quite popular. One which is no longer seen on TV (but sports a home version), was quite popular for some thirty-three years, (1952-85. It) was called Name That Tune. Over its lifespan it was moderated by TV game show icons such as Bill Cullen, Tom Kennedy, and Jim Lang. It was must-see viewing for music "trivians" and just simply play-along fun for the rest of us. Today I'd like to suggest a similar game for art "trivians" and those who fancy themselves as artist. I call it "Name That Color."
The RGB color chart with is 493 different colors.

The two games are roughly analogous in terms of numbers. How many tunes have ever been composed? How many colors can the eye identify? Before you go counting the color slots above, I'll save you the bother. There are 245 in the top one, 493 in the one just above. I've made it easy. The RGB (red, green, blue) color chart (above), now used in computer program, contains that number of squares (though the chart itself is not square). I don't know who first invented this little gem (sources vary), but the name M. George Craford keeps popping up. His landmark work along this line dates from the 1990s as a former Hewlett-Packard color engineer (later as a Philips Lumileds Lighting Company chief technical officer). I should also note that his work dealt with light emitting diodes (LEDs) not artists' pigments. In any case, his chart is not only a valuable scientific tool, but really quite a thing of beauty.

RGB (HEXidecimel) color formula chart.
The colors seen on the RGB color chart do not have names. Names are too subjective. Instead they are identified by six-digit, alpha-numeric codes ranging from  (000000=black, while FFFFFF=white), and by color formulas indicating the 256 different intensities of the red, green, and blue pixels which produce that color (0-255). Red: 0, Green: 0, Blue: 0, produces black. Red: 255, Green: 255, Blue: 255 produces white. Theoretically, this system produces an astounding 65,536 variations. If you're wondering why 255 is used instead of 256, remember, in mathematics, 0 is a number. Pick your favorite color. This is a system of naming colors only a left-brained digital artist could love.

I'm not sure you'll be able to read this 178-slot color chart with all its tints, but if you can, it should give you some ideas as to color names if you want to play "Name That Color" (try zooming in).
At the beginning I posed the question, how many colors can the human eye differentiate? If, after reading the information above, you guessed 493 or even 540, you'd be WAY too low. Optical engineers and the optical medical profession estimate around two-million though some go as high as 2.4 million. Obviously, giving a name of some sort to that many colors would be a human impossibility (like naming that many tunes). Add to that the fact we've been discussing additive color (produced by an illuminated source) while most artists are primarily interested in pigmented colors of red, yellow, and blue (a subtractive color system). Check out the studies of Johannes Itten in this case. The two bear little relationship to one another. However, with pigmented colors, at least we're dealing within the realm of descriptive names (though it's still a pretty damned big realm). My blank color chart (top) has "only" 245 color slots. Even at that, no one should anticipate getting them all correct. I should also mention that some colors require three-word names. Adjectives such as deep, dim, dark, hot, medium, light, and pale are also used. Some simply defy logic.

A color chart specially formulated for those who paint flowers.


Please don't send your answers to me, but if you wish to brag, use the comment feature below to lie about your score.

Monday, February 5, 2018

Winter Art

In glancing at the title above, you might bring to mind paintings of winter at its best--snow scenes, city or country, day or night. You might picture the work of painters such as Anna Mary Robertson (Grandma) Moses,  Claude Monet, John Fulton Folinsbee, John F. Carlson, or even Jim Lane. However, in this case I'm talking about painting on snow. That's no typo. I'm referring to the fine art of using a snow-white canvas of white snow upon which to paint. I've already dealt with snow sculpture (although some such artists choose to paint their creations). Painting snow and painting on snow are two distinctly different art forms with totally different "rules," techniques, values, and mindsets. In fact, some snow artists don't even use paint (below).
Snow calligraphy--anyone who quotes Faust has to be a serious artists, with or without paint.
When I first set out to explore the art of painting on snow I went in search of the usual broad range of professional snow painting artists. It didn't take long to realize what a naïve approach that turned out to be. For various reasons, not the least of which is the virtually non-existent archival element, all I found was a number of talented amateurs. Painting on snow is, after all, fun. Actually, the main emphasis I encountered was that of entertaining children on snowy days when schools were called off. At first I was disappointed, but then quickly came to realize that if painting on snow was the realm of school children, then so be it. As a former elementary art instructor, far be it from me to belittle such art "work."
From watercolor markers to food coloring to Kool-Aid, art of painting on snow has few rules and broad possibilities.
Although there are few "rules" in painting on snow, there are some factors to keep in mind:
 1. Snow disperses color as with the snowy decorated evergreen (above). Expect pastel tints if you dilute food coloring with water in a spray bottle.
2. Bright colors demand pure food coloring (upper images above).
3. Liquid colors tend to melt the snow except in extremely frigid conditions (at which times no one, especially young children, should be out painting on snow).
4. There is a learning curve. Start small. Then once you find what "works" and what doesn't, go for the spectacular.
5. Painting large scale works leaves footprints. Experiment--learn how to deal with them. (There are a number of ways depending on the nature of the snow).
6. Jettison any traditional thoughts of permanence. An hour is good, a day is great, a week is fantastic (and damned near unheard-of).
7. Expressionism or Symbolism are the best styles to emulate.
Kool-Aid may be sprayed on in
diluted form or sprinkled directly
from the package. It tastes good
with snow too (unless it's yellow).
One of the disadvantages of painting on snow is that snow tends to lie flat on the ground, or at best on a sloping hillside, (which demands the added skill of a sure-footed artist). A fairly "wet" (and deep) snow provides one way to remedy this limitation. Simply recruit some strong hands and arms to roll up a large snow-ball (much like the base of a snowman). Then, leaving it on its rounded edge, use a 2-by-4 or a piece of plywood, to flatten out the surface to be painted. Use "clean" snow to cover up any debris which may have been picked up along the way. Then draw on this smoothed surface with a stick, the image to be painted. Apply color as desired, guided by the factors mentioned above.

Whether free-form or stenciled, painting on snow can be quite expressive (the two images just above are in reverse order).
When you have SNOW...lots and lots of snow, and you're tired of sledding, building snowmen, and shoveling sidewalks, try SNOW SPRAY ART! I don’t know how this art craze got started, but it looks like everyone is doing it. Probably because it’s a blast! Inasmuch as traditional paintbrushes are of little use in painting on snow, water and food coloring or even diluted dry tempera can be used in a discarded spray container. Here the use of stensils is quite appropriate while also allowing the combining of multiple shapes and colors into abstract images. Try Jackson Pollock's drip-and-splatter techniques (in diluted form, food color washes out of clothes quite easily).

Once you've become fairly adept, along side the creation of a vertical "snow canvas," mentioned above, spray painting snow goes hand in hand with snow sculpture. Once more, start small. Save the your full-size version of the Statue of Liberty for when you turn "pro." Try first sculpting a cat or dog, or perhaps the head of President Trump (several times life-size, of course). Varying concentrations of orange Kool-Aid should suffice for flesh tones and the hair.

Paint? What paint? Who needs paint? The Russian "snow artist" Simon Beck has boots.
Drakony, Simon Beck
Simon Beck, who bills himself as "the world’s first and most famous "Snow Artist," proudly displays a new work of art--a massive snow dragon (left) that he drew by walking in the snow near Yakutsk, Siberia. His works take anywhere from 5-10 hours to more than a day to create. Beck created this particular work of art for a Russian movie called Drakony.

The work of Utah snow artist Simon Beck.

The sworn enemy of all snow art.